Simon Peter (2): From East to West

peter-the-keysIn the bulk of his Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory, Markus Bockmuehl provides a condensed, summary-style “encyclopedia of reception” of traditions concerning the apostle Peter, first focusing on those in the East (Gal; Matt; John; 2 Pet; Ignatius; Justin Martyr; various Syrian non-canonical texts) and then those in the West (1 Cor; Rom; Mark; Luke-Acts; 1 Pet; Clement of Rome; Marcion, etc.). Taking each of these texts in turn, he analyzes it for the extent to which it reveals something about Petrine living memory (see previous post).

Throughout, Bockmuehl’s work on reception relies on the strategy of analyzing a text’s implied reader; that is, when a text presumes familiarity with an individual or makes a claim that it feels no need to defend (that is, it would have been uncontroversial to the text’s audience), we can be reasonably confident that “the rhetorical appeal […] makes sense only if the author can assume a certain common knowledge of the events to be in place” (110), and that “shared memory allowed the readers to fill the gaps in the unspoken discourse” (111). Especially when claims could be easily proven one way or the other (through recourse to living witnesses or physical remains), this is a powerful tool for separating what was agreed upon as true from that which was novel or unprovable.

While Bockmuehl saves his conclusions for the next and final part of his book, the clear point of this section is that local memory of Peter is nearly absent from Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece, but Rome is full of Petrine memory. This is explained, in part, by the likelihood that Peter left Jerusalem for Rome in AD 41 (cf. Acts 12:3) and by the destruction of the Jewish Christianity that would have preserved Petrine memory in Palestine following the Jewish wars of AD 70 and 135. Above all, Bockmuehl contends, Peter was remembered as the singular figure who had “the capacity to bridge the tensions between Paul’s radical mission and Jerusalem Christianity’s mission to Israel” (150).

Perhaps the most interesting things about these chapters, however, are the little nuggets that Bockmuehl drops in along the way on various matters. To wit:

On Ignatius: Despite the fact that Ignatius most frequently cites/alludes to Matthew (and particularly M, his special material), Ignatius often uses the traditions from M “against the thrust of its Matthean redaction,” such that Matthew may in fact be “close to the position of Ignatius’s opponents, whose praxis and self-understanding were more Jewish or Judaizing.” Though both coming from Antioch or thereabouts (and not more than a few decades apart), this huge shift in perspective vis-à-vis the Jews is attributed to a need to downplay the church’s Jewish origins in light of anti-Jewish tensions in the community at large (49, and see point below).

On the nature of John’s Gospel: “The Johannine narrative relates the events [of the Jesus tradition] in terms of their effective significance–reading the beginning from the end, and each part in light of the whole story, as this emerges in the memory of the living witness” (62). I think this is a spot-on description of the Fourth Gospel, acknowledging the Gospel’s complexity beyond simple categories of historicity and non-historicity.

On the nature of Matthew’s Gospel: Bockmuehl finds the consensus view placing this Gospel in the 80s in Antioch unconvincing, arguing 1) that “far from dwelling on the recent destruction of the temple, Matthew inserts into his Markan text a number of fresh redactional additions that presuppose the continued operation of the temple system,” and 2) assuming Markan priority, “the time required to transport Rome’s Petrine gospel [Mark] to the East and edit it for local use need not exceed a few months, and if, as has been plausibly argued, Matthew is a kind of ‘authorized edition’ of Mark, there would be incentive to produce it without undue delay” (68). “If Mark represents the Petrine gospel for Roman Christians, then Matthew arguably constitutes its enhanced revision for a Greek-speaking Syrian readership of believers in Jesus who saw themselves as Jewish. In other words, Matthew is designed to take the place of Mark in Syria and perhaps more generally” (70). I confess I love the freedom of the Brits to do things like date Matthew in the 60s and 2 Peter in the second century: guaranteed to make both liberals and conservatives mad!!

On Lukan-Johannine parallels: Bockmuehl highlights several important parallels between these two Gospels (Luke 5.3-10 // John 21.1-19; the sequence of events involving Peter during the passion and resurrection; the pairing of Peter and John during the passion narrative; etc.). Bockmuehl is open to either Luke’s knowledge of John or vice versa (120), and having encountered similar bizarre parallels between the two Gospels when working on my Judas paper, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there was something to this notion; perhaps both drew from common oral tradition in Judea/Palestine.

On Petrine Memory in Matthew: Having noted how “Matthew retains and in several cases significantly enhances precisely the sort of Palestinian ‘local color’ that might be expected to characterize the first generation or two of Petrine memory in Syria,” Bockmuehl concludes that, in fact, “Matthew may well take us closer to Peter and his world than Mark does” (88). In other words, even if Mark in some sense represents Peter’s “memoirs,” Matthew has included Palestinian-based traditions about Peter that Mark, in Rome, has not (e.g., Matt 16.17-19; 17.24-27; 19.28).

On Galatians: Bockmuehl provides something of a rereading of Galatians by suggesting that the “Gentiles” with whom Peter had stopped eating were not believers but unbaptized gentiles (based on arguments from lexical usage and Rabbinic law). Thus “Galatians makes consistently good sense when one reads every reference to both ‘gentiles’ and ‘the circumcision’ as denoting unbelievers.” Paul has no quarrel with Jews practicing the Jewish law, as has sometimes been suggested, nor does he think Jews should give up their food laws; instead, Paul “respects the Torah-observant mission to the Jews and asks only for recognition of the validity of law-free praxis in the gentile mission” (94).

On the surprising lack of Petrine memory in Palestine: “In the context of persecution and of the revolts against Rome, it is not difficult to see the attraction–in view of Roman and Jewish hostility–of a ‘protective anonymity’ for those who were personally acquainted with a Christian ringleader who either was or had been a fugitive and was possibly executed as a subversive criminal” (97). Bockmuehl draws on Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here and elsewhere.

On the surprising lack of information about Peter’s fate: Why do documents like Mark, Luke, 1 Clement, and, above all, Acts, not give us knowledge of the fates of Peter (and Paul) (especially if you assume Luke-Acts is written after their deaths, which almost all scholars do)? Attending to the issue of the implied reader, Bockmuehl postulates that “Peter and Paul are Luke’s greatest agents, yet the inference is that readers know something important about the climax of their fate in Rome [cf. Acts 1.8; 19.21; 23.11], which he does not wish to discuss in detail [cf. 1 Clem. 5-6]” because he and other early Christian writers are writing about events that “arguably continue to engender both searing memories and political peril for the Christian community” (113).

If I have one complaint about this section, it is that the discussions of archaeological and artistic evidence lack any accompanying photos or illustrations. Similarly, there are a few places where maps would be more effective than simple text. Whether the decision not to include these things lies with the author or the publisher, I very much wish these would have been included.


About krhughes14

Smyrna, Georgia
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